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Tropical Storm Nate moving faster, expected to strengthen to hurricane as it nears Gulf Coast

A hurricane warning was issued for metropolitan New Orleans and Lake Pontchartrain as Tropical Storm Nate gained strength Friday, according to the 11 p.m. update from the National Hurricane Center.

With maximum sustained winds of 70 mph, Nate is moving north-northwest at 22 mph and was about 100 miles west-northwest of the westernmost tip of Cuba, and 500 miles south-southeast of the mouth of the Mississippi River.

The storm is not expected to impact Central Florida.

Storm surge and tropical-storm warnings are in effect east of the Alabama and Florida border.

Nate is expected to continue picking up speed and move into the southern Gulf of Mexico on Friday night, according to the advisory. It should approach the Gulf Coast on Saturday night. Nate is expected to become a hurricane by the time it enters the northern Gulf and make landfall early Sunday near New Orleans, the hurricane center said.

A Category 1 hurricane packs winds between 74 mph and 95 mph, according to the Saffir-Simpson scale.

Gov. Rick Scott on Thursday declared a state of emergency in 29 counties in northern Florida.

Nate drenched Central America with rain and has been blamed for at least 22 deaths.

Louisiana officials declared a state of emergency and ordered people to evacuate coastal areas and barrier islands. Evacuations began at some offshore oil platforms in the Gulf.

In Nicaragua, Nate's arrival followed two weeks of near-constant rain that had left the ground saturated and rivers swollen. Authorities placed the whole country on alert and warned of flooding and landslides.

Nicaragua's vice president and spokeswoman, Rosario Murillo, said that at least 15 people had died in that country because of the storm. She didn't give details on all the deaths, but said two women and a man who worked for the Health Ministry were swept away by a flooded canal in the central municipality of Juigalpa.

Costa Rica's Judicial Investigation Organism blamed seven deaths in that country on the storm and said 15 people were missing. Flooding drove 5,000 residents into emergency shelters.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

sruiz@orlandosentinel.com or 407-420-5008

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